Children are eager learners from the very start. And from the start, they learn in the context of important relationships. Parents are in a unique position to help their children develop learning and thinking skills. Other caring adults, including grandparents, caregivers, and teachers, can help as well.
Learning at Home
Children's thinking and reasoning skills emerge when adults and children seek out answers to questions and problems together. The emphasis should be on process rather that product. Listen carefully to children's questions and think of ways that they can discover their own answers. ("Why does Sparky stay warm even when it's cold out? That's a good question. Let's think about how you and Sparky are different.")
Children's solutions unfold gradually and often spontaneously in response to your questions. Instead of just telling you their ideas, kids may want to show them to you-perhaps by making a drawing or making a model out of clay. Of course, you can also use more traditional approaches, such as offering facts or describing how something works.
The most important thing you can teach children, no matter what their age, is that they are valued. Unless children have a basic sense of self-worth, it is unrealistic to expect them to approach the challenges of learning and problem-solving with confidence. When children feel that they are valued, they are more likely to feel capable, competent, and in control.
Solving Problems Creatively
You can help children become able, creative problem-solvers by encouraging them to come up with their own ideas and try a variety of solutions until they find one that works for them. Ask questions in ways that provoke children to think for themselves and to come up with an original idea or solution. For example, ask questions that begin, "How do you think we could…?" or "What do you suppose would happen if…?"
Once you ask thought-provoking questions, it is important to wait and listen to children's answers with genuine respect for their ideas. This approach requires time, patience, and ingenuity, but is well worth the effort.
Outside the Home
Trips to new places-a farm, a library, or the local fire station-offer excellent opportunities for learning because they stimulate children's sense of wonder and curiosity. Even a place that seems boring to you, such as a fruit stand, can hold kids' interest. Hands-on experiences are especially exciting because they let children use their senses to explore a new setting. Allow plenty of time for children to make their own observations and ask their own questions. You may want to write these observations and questions down and explore them when you return home.
Some children will not learn at the same rate as others or at the rate expected by you or teachers. This may be due to a simple learning difference, hearing or vision problem, emotional issue, or developmental delay. If your child is struggling with learning, talk to your health-care professional as well as to your child's teacher (or childcare center director) about the possibility of getting an evaluation and additional services. Help is available and the sooner children obtain it, the sooner they can begin to overcome their difficulties.
For more information on educational approaches to children with learning differences, developmental delays, or disabilities, visit Inclusive Communities.